Tyre Stewardship Australia members achieve circular outcomes

Eight members of Tyre Stewardship Australia are taking their role as tyre manufacturers a step further by working towards a circular economy future.

Product stewardship is, by definition, acknowledging that those involved in producing, selling, using and disposing of products have a shared responsibility to manage those products in an environmentally friendly, healthy and safe manner. 

This Federal Government Department of the Environment and Energy definition goes well beyond end-of-life management, but encompasses a whole-of-life product stewardship approach. It’s an approach that begins from material sourcing, followed by production, consumption, disposal and reuse of resources.

In recent years, eight tyre companies have been taking proactive steps to reduce their impact. Continental, Bridgestone, Pirelli, Michelin, Goodyear, Yokohama, Kumho and Toyo are key members of Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA). In addition to raising public and industry awareness on tyre resource recovery with TSA, their considerable efforts to increase sustainability in the entire tyre production chain are also yielding some progressive results. 

Lina Goodman, Tyre Stewardship Australia CEO, says significant efforts are being made to turn the tyre industry into an environmentally focused, circular economy endeavour. 

“From new sources of natural rubber to the introduction of sustainable plantation techniques, the efforts of tyre manufacturers has potential to significantly reduce global reliance on unsustainable natural resources,” Lina explains.

The production chain goes all the way back to the pure source of natural rubber. Hevea brasilliensis, known as the Para Rubber Tree, is currently the primary source of material used in tyres. The price of natural rubber has fallen in global markets over the years, affecting rubber growers in South-East Asia. 

The Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Germany identified the dandelion as a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to Hevea in 2015. In Germany, Continental has committed 35 million Euro to researching the production of rubber from the Russian dandelion as an alternative to the Hevea plant. 

“It is encouraging to see these positive sustainable initiatives by tyre manufacturers towards minimising their environmental impact,” Lina says. 

All TSA members are part of a World Business Council for Sustainable Development initiative called the Tire Industry Project (TIP), a CEO-led cooperative endeavour to identify and address potential environmental impacts from the industry and work to deliver a more sustainable future.

Cooperative efforts, such as the TIP, are also looking to improve the sustainability of end-of life tyre outcomes. The TIP aims to improve global industry recovery rates and reuse, including in less developed markets that have been subject to environmentally unsound reuse and recovery practices.

Bridgestone and Pirelli have also been investigating the rubber producing capabilities of the desert plant Guayule, due to its ability to thrive with less water than rubber-producing Hevea trees. Bridgestone is also undertaking considerable research work on disease protection for the Hevea trees, helping farmers increase productivity and reduce resource use.

French manufacturer Michelin has been developing sustainable rubber tree plantations in South America and South-East Asia, often co-planting Hevea trees with either natural forest vegetation or intermingled with local farmed crops. The work is part of their Movin’On 2018 plan, which is working towards a future of tyres manufactured with 80 per cent sustainable materials by 2048.

“That work is closely mirrored by Goodyear’s focus on improving the sustainability and productivity of natural rubber tree plantations and education efforts, directed at farmers, to improve land management and habitat conservation,” Lina says.

Other conservation efforts have included Yokohama’s Forever Forest initiative, which exceeded its target of planting 500,000 trees by 2017. The aim of the program was to increase local community environmental education, help in the formation of conservation forests and preserve biodiversity. 

The substitution of other components of tyre manufacture with sustainable alternatives has also been the focus of work undertaken by Goodyear. After years of investigation, the company replaced petroleum with soybean oil in the tread compound of a tyre, delivering a renewable raw material that not only improves manufacturing efficiency, but also enhances tyre performance.

Both Kumho and Toyo have worked on increasing sustainability and reducing waste through lowering tyre weights and the use of exotic, yet renewable, materials used to extend product life and minimise the use of non-renewables.

Lina says that the efforts to improve sustainability have not excluded research and development into improved tyre performance that can contribute to positive environmental outcomes. 

“Tyre manufacturers focus on improving areas such as reducing rolling resistance, wet weather grip and extending the overall lifecycle of the tyre, not only improving consumer value and safety but reducing the final waste impact of the product through the extension of the product’s lifecycle.”

She says that another example of the circular economy principle in practice is retreading. She says that a number of manufacturers are closely involved in the effective reuse of salvageable casings, particularly of truck tyres, allowing them to serve for a second, third or even fourth cycle. 

“Consequently, they reduce pollution, conserve resources and use less energy than in the full manufacture of a new tyre,” she says. 

Lina says that ultimately, all of the work undertaken by TSA members is in recognition of the responsibility the tyre industry has to deliver full product stewardship and of the global move towards a circular economy.